By TIM CLODFELTER
October 13, 2006
Now, for fans of the children's book series "Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events," this could be seen as a good day. This is the day the 13th installment of that series hits bookstores.
That book, "The End," provides fans with one more chance to visit the Baudelaire children and see what further misfortunes befall them.
On the other hand, this being "The End" is unfortunate in that many people will miss the Baudelaires. The 13th book in the series (in which each book has 13 chapters) is the finale. Unless Lemony Snicket (or his alter ego, Daniel Handler) needs a new boat, this is probably the last we'll see of these adorable, misbegotten tots.
Fans of Sarah Michelle Gellar could also see this as a good day. Her movie "The Grudge 2" hits movie theaters Friday. On the other hand, the movie might not be any good.
Perhaps you've heard the word paraskevidekatriaphobia before. It is a fancy way of saying "fear of Friday the 13th."
Between 17 million and 21 million people suffer from that phobia, according to Donald Dossey, author of "Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun." And millions of dollars of business are lost each year because of people not wanting to travel, conduct business, sign contracts or do much of anything on Friday the 13th.
Dossey, a clinical psychologist and folklore expert, runs the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C. He coined the term "paraskevidekatriaphobia" back in the late 1980s, feeling that there needed to be a specific word for the fear of that specific date. The word has since gone into general usage.
"I used to tell my patients that when you finally learn how to pronounce it, you're cured," he said, then laughed.
Friday has been associated with misfortune for centuries, dating back to Jesus crucifixion on a Friday. Friday was a traditional execution day in ancient Rome and Hangman's Day in Britain. There are long-standing beliefs that a trip started on a Friday will end in misfortune. That belief was especially widespread among sailors, traditionally a superstitious lot. And one story says that in the 19th century, the British government tried to put an end to such superstitions by launching a ship called the HMS Friday, captained by a Jim Friday, on a Friday.
As the story goes, the ship disappeared and was never again heard from.
Some of the possible reasons for fearing the number 13 involve dinners gone awry. Remember Judas Iscariot? He was the 13th person at the Last Supper and the one who betrayed Jesus. One thousand years before Judas' betrayal, Loki, the god of mischief in Norse mythology, was said to be a 13th guest at a dinner party of the gods. At that dinner, the beloved Balder, god of joy and gladness, was killed because of Loki's mischief.
There were said to be 13 participants in a witch's coven; there are 12 months and 12 signs of the zodiac, so one number past those was considered unlucky.
Even today, the builders of many skyscrapers pretend not to have a 13th floor by numbering the floor after 12 as 14.
In folklore, Friday the 13th of 1307 was the day that King Philip IV of France turned on the Knights Templar and arrested and tortured thousands of them. It was, according to Katherine Kunz's book, "Tales of the Knights Templar, "a day so infamous that Friday the 13th would become a synonym for ill fortune."
And a future Friday the 13th in October could be a very unfortunate day indeed. In the Mayan calendar, that is the day the world will come to an end.
In 4772. Don't bother marking your calendar.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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